Long before there was “Deflategate,” there was the time the NFL’s lone Hall of Fame punter was suspected of kicking a football filled with a substance lighter than air.
When the Houston Oilers and Oakland Raiders met on November 13, 1977, Ray Guy’s hang time on kicks drew the attention of the visiting Oilers.
Per a UPI wire story, Oilers returner Billy “White Shoes” Johnson told the club’s special teams coach that “the ball was hanging up there too long.”
Said Johnson: “I have never seen anybody hang kickoffs like Guy did.”
Things would get even more interesting from there. According to news accounts, the Oilers were able to retrieve one of Guy’s footballs and took it back to Houston. The Oilers would send the ball for testing at Rice University, but no helium was found, according to the AP, which cited a Houston Post report. (It should be noted, according to the UPI, that the late Oilers coach Bum Phillips believed early on there was “probably nothing to” the helium theory.)
In the end, it was much ado about nothing. According to news reports, the NFL had no prohibition against helium-filled footballs in 1977. And this appears to be the same case today. The 2014 NFL rule book doesn’t include any guideline as to what gas must fill the football, though the weight of the ball and other details are covered (as you certainly well know after the last few days).
Ultimately, there’s some question as to whether helium would lead to better punting performance. “Mythbusters” explored the subject years back and found an air-filled football traveled a little farther. Also, a 1993 Sports Illustrated experiment comparing 10 punts of helium- and air-filled footballs at equal weights found the air-filled ones produced better hang time.